HANS-HENNING KORB, Artischocken Kosha, 2016, Oculus Rift VR headset, Lenovo Y900 PC, VR simulation, CNC-milled foam, fiberglass, pigmented silicon, cooked artichoke, plastic stool and organic materials, score by Robert Lippok, dimensions variable. Courtesy Empty Gallery, Hong Kong. 

Kaya Cynara

Hans-Henning Korb

Empty Gallery
Hong Kong Germany

“You can do anything you like with the artichoke.”

Those were the words spoken by a guide on a brisk December afternoon in Hong Kong’s Empty Gallery. They primed Berlin-born Hans-Henning Korb’s Artischocken Kosha (2016), a VR simulation that placed viewers in the center of a fluxing cloud with mercurial shades of violet, seafoam and jade. The experience was restless but soothing. The Chinese character for tao (as in Taoism) appears but is easy to miss, as it undulates according to the contours of the hues below it, jostled by the ever-changing tints and tones, splitting and growing and shrinking until it disappears. But where was the artichoke? The guide placed it in my hands—cooked, still warm. Around us, the walls were syrupy and clang to touch.

The journey to Artischocken Kosha began on the south side of Hong Kong Island, on the ground level, steps away from a fish market beside the Aberdeen Harbour. An elevator in a nondescript industrial building shot up to the 19th floor. Its doors opened, and I entered an antechamber, barely lit. Every surface was dark stone. One had to locate the correct panel within this antechamber to push through into Empty Gallery. Within, stairs led down one level to Korb’s “Kaya Cynara”—“Kaya” is a Buddhist term that refers to the bodies of a Buddha that exemplify truth, bliss and endless manifestation; and “Cynara” refers to a genus of thistle-like plants—one of two concurrent shows staged for the gallery’s reopening in December 2016 after an expansion to connect the two levels.

HANS-HENNING KORB, Yumco, 2016, UV-cured prints on latex, earth, dried artichoke leaves and organic materials, dimensions variable. Courtesy Empty Gallery, Hong Kong. 

HANS-HENNING KORB in collaboration with Jonas Wendelin,Yukti, 2016, ceramics, artichokes, cooking pot, portable stove, ladle, plastic bowl, plastic stool, sifter, linen towels, ritual, dimensions variable. Courtesy Empty Gallery, Hong Kong. 

Every surface of the exhibition space was black, a refreshing contrast to the sterile white walls the contemporary art world has become accustomed to. The consistency of white-cube environments across the globe ensures a baseline for shows mounted in galleries: what works in Seoul can probably be restaged in Pretoria with few adjustments. Empty Gallery, however, overturns this notion. Much of its focus will be on commissioning new work that is made to fit the gallery’s black walls, low light and rock-star attitude.

I descended the stairs to find Yumco (2016), an installation of branches, earth and dried artichoke leaves with all of the appropriate natural smells. In the same room, lingering fog was punctuated by light from digital projections of Yin Skin, in which shiny, slimy snails glide, writhe and convene. Everything was damp, but comfortably so. I traipsed onto uneven dirt, and joined the Yukti (2016) ceremonial performance, in which participants’ hands were cleansed before they were offered artichoke water. The blue ceramic drinking vessels, which were made by Korb’s collaborator Jonas Wendelin, have fins along their rims; fingers and lips must work together to find the right spot for tongues to taste the tea. As I did this, the video Cynara (2016) played behind us: a naked man handles an artichoke flower, then a woman in near-fetal position lies facedown with a nebulous cloud hovering above her; it carries the shades that are seen in Artischocken Kosha, which was in the gallery’s deepest recess, where the darkness was displaced once the Oculus headset was strapped on.

Korb studied in Berlin at Olafur Eliasson’s Institute for Spatial Experiments and then went on to study under the tutelage of Hito Steyerl at the Universität der Künste Berlin. He continued his artistic training in Ethiopia and the United States, honing his craft at Addis Ababa University and Hunter College. His use of mixed-media installations and new technologies fits Empty Gallery’s ethos of showcasing experiential art. The gallery’s darkened rooms were a salient contrast to not only other art spaces, but also Hong Kong’s rat-race streets, where every crevice is packed with dense visual information—advertisements and retail displays, mostly—that bombards and overloads pedestrians every day. “Kaya Cynara” was an opportunity to reboot our senses, and spend just a brief moment in a weird, mystical world crafted by a young German visionary. Don’t forget to try the artichoke water. It’s just a little sweet.

HANS-HENNING KORB, Cynara, 2016, Samsung TV 55”, Brightsign HD media player, earth, tree branches, dried artichokes leaves, organic materials and full HD video 4’ loop portrait format, dimensions variable. Courtesy Empty Gallery, Hong Kong. 

Hans-Henning Korb’s “Kaya Cynara” is on view at the Empty Gallery, Hong Kong, until February 17, 2017.

Brady Ng is reviews editor at ArtAsiaPacific. 

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